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Installing Debian on the Thecus N2100 -- PART 1 -- Preparation for install

Posted by coldtobi | 2 Feb, 2008, 15:52

As you know, I bought myself a Thecus NAS 2100, with the intent to install debian on it and use it as an homer server solution.  This article -- or better articles -- will focus how to install debian on the box.

Please note, that this VOIDS YOUR WARRANTY, so the usual disclaimer applies: You brick it, you repair it. I do not recommend to install Linux on the box, if you are not sure you can handle it. Linux requires more hands-on than the GUI -- you won't have a GUI anyway -- but reveals the real power. With power comes responsibility.

The motivation why to install Linux lays on the hand: The Thecus is more a home server than "only" a NAS. Therefore my NAS will have to do some more duties than just to store data. Actually, all of them are related to "data storage", but not everything can be done with the "plain" firmware.

As an example, I am planning to use it as an dedicated backup server, a server hosting my mail system and of course as an multimedia server for streaming my music everywhere I want it, not bowing before the ITunes restrictions.

But as the services will surely adapt to my needs, I will focus on them later in dedicated articles.

Okay, lets get started after the "read more" line. (if you at the main page of my blog)

Table of Contens

  1. Part 1: Get Prepared (this article)
  2. Part 2: Installing the Installer.
  3. Part 3: Installing Debian I (start the installer and configure RAID)
  4. Part 4: Installing Debian II
  5. Part 5: Fine tuning after the installation

Other Sites 

You probably also want to check out this sites, as they contain valuable informations about installing debian on the Thecus.

  •  http://www.cyrius.com/debian/iop/n2100/install.html. You gonna need the debian installer binary provided on that page.

Lets get prepared:

Test your system.

My Thecus was brand new. In this case, it is a good idea to test it before you get started: Setup the Thecus with its original firmware, and you make sure that the system is working before you break the warranty. In my case, my tests were to build the RAID and afterward playing with it. Note, that building the RAID takes several hours, and puts some significant load on the box. So this should be quite a good test, even if its not covering all issues. However, if you are brave, you can ommit that step to safe some hours. 

Upgrade the Firmware to at least 2.1.05

Starting with the mentioned version, Thecus did all the Linux hackers a great favour: They enabled ethernet access to the RedBoot bootloader (Frequent readers might notice, that this is also the Bootloader used in the La Fonera, so look for these articles, as there might be additional informations for you. Use the search button to your right.)

The benefits of this support is quite obvious: It is a fail-safe recovery path: If something goes wrong -- for example caused by the installer or while flashing a kernel later -- you gonna need a RS232 adapter to unbrick it again if you do not have access to the Bootloader.

If enabled, you can *always* load a known-good version or/and deinstall to the stock firmware conveniently. As an side effect, you also test a kernel before actually flashing it.

(A last note to the RedBoot: In contrast to the La Fonera, this box has a lots of RAM. So you do not need to *flash* anything to test it. It is always possible to load the firmware into RAM and start it directly without prior flashing it.)

Back to the firmware. Currently the Thecus ships with the 2.1.06. At least this was the version I got on my brand new one. On the site referenced above, they tell you need at least 2.1.05. Combining that, I can only assume that 2.1.05 and 2.1.06 are ok. (Anyway, I suggest to test redboot before actually installing the debian installer. )

How to test for RedBoot 
Read this article to for some instructions.

_ASIP_ 

Setup the Thecus and your PC

During the installation, the installer needs access to the Internet to bootstrap the system.  

For this, I directly hooked up the Thecus to my laptop. The laptop was configured to do NAT and packet forwarding. The instructions below are exactly for that setup. Of course, you can also connect it directly to your router. I'll try to give some alternative instructions below, but beware: They are not tested. 

You need to configure the ip settings of the NAS to ease the installation.  Martins' instruction tell, that it makes no difference, as the installer will guess the right settings from the original firmware, but I was unable to verify that: Either I did something wrong or the instructions were not up to date. In any case, it seemed that the debian installer ended without any interface up, and I was unable to connect.

However, my method worked, even if some of the steps are for paranoids only.

Setup the thecus to use these settings in the LAN1-Settings-Page: (Please adapt them for your configuration.)
  • LAN1 Port "static"
  • IP-Mask 192.168.1.100
  • Netmask: 255.255.255.0
  • Gateway: 192.168.1.1
  • DNS-Server: 192.168.1.1

To setup the laptop for NAT and dns and packet forwarding, I installed the dnsmasq and ipmasq packages. You need to configure dnsmasq to offer dhcp-leases on the 192.168.1.x subnet. The dnsmasq.conf I used, just contained the following tow statements:

interface=eth0
dhcp-range=192.168.1.50,192.168.1.150,12h

So far the dnsmasq part. ipmasq needs not to be configured. Just start it and enjoy ;-)

However, you have to configure your ethernet to the address 192.168.1.1. The full sequence should look like. 

ifconfig 192.168.1.1 up

/etc/init.d/dnsmasq stop

ipmasq

dnsmasq -d -f 

Please note, that I start dnsmasq in debug mode: The debug output gives you the opportunity to monitor the requests of your NAS: You'll see exactly when the Thecus is up and ready.

Alternative: Using your router and dhcp. 

I did not test this, but you should be able to connect it to e.g your DSL Router to get the IP configured automatically by its DHCP Sever. You only have to make sure, that you can get the configuration's details from the router or you might end up searching for the IP the thecus has been assigned to. However, as most DHCP Servers will give a host always the same address, you might get the Thecus configured first by its own firmware (using dynamic in the LAN1 Settings) and write that setting down. 

(Another hint: You can use nmap to find the ip: Just nmap  nmap -sP 192.168.1.0/24  (replace 192.168.1.0 with your subnet)

Summary 

Now, we have prepared the Thecus and your PC for the installation, and also made sure, that you have a recovery route, if anything fails. The next part will then install the debian installer on the box, to get the installation done.

_ASIP_ 

 

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